Number of Species on Waiting List for Endangered Species Act Protection Drops to Lowest Level in History

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Number of Species on Waiting List for Endangered Species Act Protection Drops to Lowest Level in History

Number of Species Needing Help Remains High

WASHINGTON - As a result of a pair of settlement agreements with the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians, the number of species on the waiting list for Endangered Species Act protection has dropped to the lowest level since the “candidate” list was begun in 1975. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that only 30 species are now on the candidate waiting list for protection, including the Pacific walrus, Oregon’s red tree vole and the eastern gopher tortoise.

Although the Service has made great progress reducing the backlog of candidate species, the agency faces a backlog of more than 500 species that have been petitioned for protection. The Service has developed a workplan to make decisions for 320 of these petitioned species over the next seven years, but whether it will be able to implement this workplan under a Trump administration is in serious question.

“The Endangered Species Act has been tremendously successful, saving more than 99 percent of the species under its care from extinction, but it only works for species once they’re protected as threatened or endangered,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “For this reason it’s critical that the Fish and Wildlife Service be given the funding and freedom to do its job and make decisions about protection for the hundreds of species waiting for consideration, consistent with its workplan.”

In 2011 the Service and the Center reached a landmark agreement that required the agency to make protection decisions for the 251 species on the candidate list as of 2010, as well as initial decisions on 506 additional species petitioned for protection. By the end of fiscal year 2016, the Service had completed most of its commitments under the agreement, resulting in protection of 176 species and proposed protection for another 19. Most of the 506 petitioned species received positive initial findings, suggesting they may warrant protection, but continue to await protection decisions. Under the Endangered Species Act, the Service is supposed to make protection decisions within one year of receiving a petition, but most of these hundreds of species have already been waiting more than five years.

“We call on the incoming Trump administration to follow the law and make protection decisions for the hundreds of species desperately awaiting consideration,” said Greenwald. “If the Fish and Wildlife Service is not allowed to do its job under the Trump administration, we will have no choice but to turn to the courts.”

A recent study found that on average imperiled species have waited more than 12 years to receive endangered species protection. This has real consequences, with at least 44 species having gone extinct while they waited. The study also found that lawsuits by groups like the Center identified species stuck in the process and sped that protection.

In August the Center filed a notice of intent to sue over many of the petitioned species awaiting decisions. Following this notice the Service issued its workplan. Given this encouraging sign, the Center does not plan to file a lawsuit in accordance with its notice, but rather to let the Service complete its workplan.

“Our sincere hope is that the Trump administration will not prevent the Service from carrying out its legal duty to protect America’s most imperiled species from extinction,” said Greenwald. “And the need is great — scientists agree that the planet is undergoing its sixth major extinction crisis. The Endangered Species Act is one of the strongest laws any nation has to safeguard biological diversity in the face of ever-increasing threats.”

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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